Carnegie Mellon News Online Edition: June 13, 2001: 104th Commencement
Carnegie Mellon News Online Edition
In This Issue

Pogo x 10!

Medical Robots

Wind Farm

New Drama Head

Thorpe Heads Robotics

Centennial Campaign

104th Commencement

Digital MC

Engineering Educational Activities for Kids

MCS Award

Grad Students Cited for Service, Teaching

Track Coach Retires

GSIA Bids Farewell to Kerr, Thompson

Andy Awards

This Issue's Front Page
Carnegie Mellon News Home
Carnegie Mellon News Services Home Page

Rene Auberjonois Welcomes Class of 2001 to the "University of the Universe"

Rene Auberjonois Tony® Award-winning actor Rene Auberjonois' (A 1962) keynote address at Carnegie Mellon's 104th commencement, May 20, featured a bit of "keynote archeology."

Auberjonois borrowed a few lines from the university's first commencement keynote speaker in 1908, Dr. Robert Woodward Simpson, in welcoming the Class of 2001 to the "University of the Universe, of which there are no graduates."

As Simpson did nearly 100 years ago, Auberjonois, a versatile performer who has made his mark on Broadway, in films and in television, wished the graduates well in their pursuit of happiness, which Simpson called a "by-product of worthy work well done."

Auberjonois closed his address by recalling the phrase "Here, Inspiration Takes Flight," which is written above the proscenium in the College of Fine Arts building.

"Those words are in the Fine Arts building, but I feel they speak of this entire institution," Auberjonois said. "And I'm sure I speak for the entire administration, the faculty, and your family and friends when I offer you heartfelt admiration, hearty congratulations, and heart-stopping awe as you spread your wings and take flight.

"Bon voyageŠ safe passageŠ and, as Dr. Woodward Simpson might have said: 'Welcome to the universe!'"

The following are Auberjonois' remarks.

In William Shakespeare's "Twelfth Night" the puritanical Malvolio pompously proclaims:

"Some are born great-some achieve greatness-and some have greatness thrust upon them!"

So . . . what does this have to do with why we are gathered here today?

To begin with, let me express how delighted I am to share such a joyful occasion with you, the administration and faculty, and your family and friends. I am humbled beyond expression to have this great opportunity "thrust upon me,"Š this mission to welcome you, the graduates, as you cross such a momentous threshold.

Some of you may have been "born great." Hopefully, many of you will "achieve greatness." And as for having "greatness thrust upon" you . . . well, a funny thing happened to me on the way to this commencement ceremony.

A few months ago, President Cohon's office phoned from Carnegie Mellon with a request for me to be the keynote speaker at this year's graduation.

Now, it just so happened that at that moment I was playing the part of a Scotsman. I mean, I was standing there, dressed in a kilt-not a Carnegie tartan, but still, a kilt-and I was attempting to squeeze a sound, any sound, out of a set of maddeningly reluctant bagpipes. I wasn't having much success, and the pitiful wheeze I did manage to generate certainly didn't resemble the stirring strains I recalled wafting across this campus in my undergraduate days. Nevertheless, as I stood there in my tartans clutching my bagpipes, the cosmic convergence of the situation seemed undeniable.

My knees, already vulnerable beneath the hem of my kilt, began to knock audibly, and the caterwaul that suddenly erupted from the bagpipes seemed an appropriate expression of my mixed emotions.

Well, I am an actorŠ but, as I stood there in my Scottish attire, I wasn't too sure about assuming the role of "keynote speaker." The only thing I was sure of was the answer to the age-old question: "What does a Scotsman wear under his kilt?"

But I digress.

Having this "greatness thrust upon" me, I decided to undertake a bit of historical research. Some "keynote archeology," if you will.

So I donned my Carnegie Mellon t-shirt and discovered that in 1908, Dr. Robert Woodward Simpson gave the very first keynote address on this campus. It was, of course, a different era, but one piece of his counsel in particular seems still relevant and worth considering.

On that first graduation day he exhorted the graduating class:

"Let not the educational clock strike twelve for you today. Commencement day should mark the beginning rather the end of a course of study; for whether you realize it or not, you are about to be enrolled in the 'University of the Universe,' from which there are no graduates!"

I would add: Whether you realize it or not, the odds are that everything you have learned and experienced here at CMU will continue to expand, evolve and enrich your life. And, I am confident that you will appreciate-if you don't already-just how successfully your time here has tuned and wound your "educational clock."

Last year, in his remarks at the "Farewell to the Kresge" ceremony, President Cohon encouraged the alumni to seize every opportunity to acknowledge their alma mater. He suggested-I believe it was somewhat tongue in cheek-something along the lines of: "Everything I am today, I owe to Carnegie Mellon University!"

So, if you will indulge me-and humor our distinguished president-would you join me in a trial run?

Please repeat after me:

"Everything I am today . . . I owe . . . to Carnegie Mellon University!"

Thank you, and well done! I trust you will carry the torch and unfurl that banner on every appropriate occasion. Of course, with a metaphor that mixed, you might end up running around with a burning flag . . . which can't be what the president had in mind.

Dr. Simpson went on to caution that first graduating class "against the fallacy of supposing that to be successful, or even great, in life, you need to possess rare endowments, or what is often vaguely called genius."

Now, is that any way to address a group of people on a day of such triumphal celebration? Surely your success is due to rare endowments, and surely it takes genius to attain this pinnacle.


Well, I have no doubt that there are a fair number of geniuses with rare endowments among you. But I'm also pretty sure that the majority of you are justifiably proud of the fact that you got here today, not because of rare endowments-unique, yes-and not because of genius-well, maybe flashes of it- but because of hard work.


When I was a student here, in the last century-but then, come to think of it, so were you-I was impressed by the oft-quoted phrase attributed to Andrew Carnegie: "My heart is in the work."

At the time, I wasn't sure if I was totally in agreement with that sentiment . . . especially on those dark and seemingly endless nights as I struggled to complete "the work" on my thesis. And my "heart" was preoccupied with a young woman, a fellow drama student, who has been my wife now for nearly 40 years. But, as my tenure in "The University of the Universe" has progressed, I have come to recognize the profound truth of those words.

To quote the good doctor one last time: "The highest happiness is a by-product of worthy work well done."

I think the concept of happiness as a by-product, rather than a quest in itself, has great validity. And worthy work, well done, is surely what all of us would hope to achieve in life.

"My heart is in the work. . . . My heart is in the work.

It's not a bad choice for a mantra, and I offer it for your consideration as you undertake whatever worthy work you choose.

For some of you, at first, that work may not be your first choice. I'm thinking of you graduating actors as you begin your careers perhaps by simply perfecting your interpretation of such scintillating dialogue as: "You want fries with that?"

Personal experience has verified that if your heart is in the work, and the work is well done, then happiness will be the by-product and the work will be worthy.

You, the graduating class of 2001, hold the distinction of being, truly, the first graduating class of the new millennium.

Two Thousand and One! The resonance, the symbolism of that number is so powerful and evocative. Consider Stanley Kubrick's film of the same name . . . er . . . number . . . whatever.

In the opening sequence of 2001, an ape hurls a bone high into the sky. It dissolves and transforms into a ship gracefully launched into space.

I'd ask you all to join me in humming a few bars of Thus Spake Zarathustra, but I think that might be pushing my luck.

Today, we, your family and friends, bask with pride in the reflected glow of your successful launch. I hope that doesn't make us the apes in this picture.

There's another phrase that keeps echoing forth from my undergraduate days at Carnegie.

In the Kresge Theatre where we learned our craft . . . where we first put our hearts into the work (whether it was sweeping up the stage or sweeping onto the stage) . . . where everything we were aiming to become we would owe to Carnegie Mellon University (and I'm not talking about student loans) . . . in that space, that "wooden O," carved above the proscenium, are the words "Ici L'inspiration Deploie ses Ailes."

"Here, Inspiration Takes Wing."

Those words are in the Fine Arts Building, but I feel they speak for this entire institution. And I'm sure I speak for this entire gathering when I offer you heartfelt admiration, hearty congratulations, and heart- stopping awe as you spread your wings and take flight.

Bon voyage . . . safe passage . . . and, as Dr. Woodward Simpson might have said: "Welcome to the universe!"


This Issue's Headlines || Carnegie Mellon News Home || Carnegie Mellon News Service || Carnegie Mellon Home